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Political Control, Cultural Interaction, and the Formation of a Unified Chinese Civilization in the Zhou Dynasty (1046-221 BC)

A talk by QIAN YIHUI (Department of Archaeology, Capital Normal University; and a Visiting Scholar with the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies)

Thursday, February 24, 2011
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
11377 Bunche Hall

In the Western Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BC), for controlling and managing its peripheries, Zhou dynasty adopted different strategies in different regions and in different periods. Most of these strategies involved securing points of access to the Zhou territory and cultural penetration from other areas. Politics based on blood ties was notable in the Western Zhou dynasty up until the Spring and Autumn period.


In the Eastern Zhou period (771-221 BC), the relations of the states that made up the Zhou polity became complicated, with extensive exchange and interaction among different tribal groups. This promoted cultural integration and the formation of a culture across the realm that bore similar characteristics. At the time, the Zhou states expanded their power. Each state adopted a different development strategy in the search for political balance. Relations between states led by rules with different surnames were characterized by war and struggle for territory and power. In same-surname states, consanguinity was the most important element in state relationships. States' power affected their diplomacy’s policy. Thus policy tended to change as a state's power grew or waned. Small states relied on marriage ties, alliances, and tribute to protect themselves from big states. At the same time, cultural characteristics also became increasingly similar to those in the big states. Small states adopted a strategy of alliance and cooperation. To achieve a political and military balance among big states, they engaged in cultural exchange and interaction via, among other ties, the ties of marriage and alliances. As big states expanded their territory through war, cultural factors become more complicated and the process of cultural integration more varied. This helped lead to unified cultural characteristics across China. Based on the territory unification, the Qin (秦) state accomplished the historical mission of bringing cultural unification to China.

The formation of unified Chinese civilization was the result of the fact that the pre-Qin (先秦) states had extensive cultural interaction and in various ways became culturally integrated.

Qian Yihui is an Associate Professor of Archaeology at Capital Normal University, Beijing. His research interests include the archaeological culture of the Xia, Shang and Zhou periods (about from BC 2000 to BC 221), including archaeological theory and methods, bronze, Zhou culture of Shandong area, handcraft production of the Xia to Shang periods, interaction between early ancient human beings and nature, and cultural change.


Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies

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